The S&500, the broadest measure of stocks, hit a new high of 1884 today. The stock market celebrated by stopping trading for a moment to watch a debate on the future of the market unfold on CNBC.
It was a strange spectacle that also lit up twitter when IEX’s Brad Katsuyama took the challenge verbally shoved at him BATS Global Markets president William O’Brien and explained, in detail, how the market is rigged. Volume on the market noticeably dipped during the course of the debate and twitter lit up. It was a big moment in this history of the market.
The dust-up amid the new record high was on CNBC, the cable news outlet for market junkies. It started with a discussion led by Michael Lewis, previously famous for his book (and later movie) Moneyball. His latest work, Flash Boys: a Wall Street Revolt details how high frequency traders have rigged the market by exploiting as many small differences as they can before small investors have a chance to even hear about them.
Guests on the show included O’Brien, the owner of a trading firm that engages in high frequency trades, and Katsuyama, a proponent of a market-based reform to give the same access to everyone. In the book Katsuyama is portrayed as a hero who states frankly, “The market is rigged.” O’Brien goaded him on the CNBC show to stand behind his statement and Katsuyama reluctantly obliged.
“Shame on both of you for falsely accusing literally thousands of people and possibly scaring millions of investors in an effort to promote a business model,” O’Brien goaded.
“You want to go there? Let’s go there,” Katsuyama replied. “I believe the markets are rigged and I also think you’re part of the rigging,” he continued.
O’Brien’s contention is that IEX, headed by Katsuyama, is a company with a product that they are pitching. But Katsuyama had none of it, insisting that the problem is that people are scared out of the market because of the way it is rigged. “6 years ago, 65% of the households were invested in the market. Today it’s 52%.”
Coming on the day when the S&P hit a new high, it was remarkable. But we can’t say that the gaming of the market is the reason why it’s hitting new highs. Corporate profits continue to hit new highs, gaining 6% year over year at the end of 2013.
What Katsuyama is doing is taking a market that is rebounding into a new economy and helping it to reform itself. He’s offering a solution at the same time whatever comes next will really need it.
And the market was clearly transfixed while it happened. This is, all around a big deal.
The entire video is very much worth watching if you weren’t one of the millions of people taking time out of their day to see it live. It was nothing short of a debate on how the market can reform itself outside of a new round of regulation – which everyone present thought was not only undesirable but potentially undesirable. “The regulatory process always seems to wind up producing something which is gamed by smart people,” Lewis said. He was the only one on the panel without a direct financial stake in the outcome, too.
Will the market continue to reach new highs? The fundamentals are there for it to happen. But will the beneficiaries of these profits be only a small elite? Many people are concerned enough about it that something will be done. Some people will even be able to make money off of creating a more open and efficient market, so the outlook is good.
Today was a real watershed in the stock market for many reasons. The new economy took a great leap forward as another sign that the Managed Depression of 2000-2017 is starting to unwind. What will replace it might just be a new financial world, at least if people like Katsuyama are able to make it happen.
For my part, I might have to take back some of the horrible things I’ve said about financial innovation causing instability and excessive risk. In the right hands, innovation might be a very good thing.